After the 2003 invasion of Iraq, a new Fleet Response Plan (FRP) put fighting forces at an ever-increasing operations tempo. Six-month deployments have turned into seven or even eight, and ships and units head quickly back to sea, sometimes just weeks after returning. It is not unusual for more than half the fleet's 289 ships to be underway on any given day.This has been known at the deckplate level for a years. It is a simple understanding of the facts of maintaining a Fleet of ships. Fundamentals; something that we thought we were smarter than during the Lost Decade.
But answering those bells is taking a toll on ships, budget and people. Navy leaders have concluded that something's got to change.
"We may have to dial down here," said Adm. John Harvey, commander of U.S. Fleet Forces Command. "We can't do everything all the time and still sustain the fleet. There's a balance you have to reach. And I think it's up to us to articulate what that balance is and what it takes to sustain that balance over time."
The Navy's leaders are looking at nearly all aspects of how the fleet is being used: Preparation and training, cost and maintenance, operating cycles and capabilities. There is serious talk about returning to pre-FRP six-month deployments, putting the fleet on a more predictable cycle that is friendlier to shipyard periods, maintenance budgets and the personal lives of sailors.
The Navy and its Congressional overseers are increasingly worried that the fleet is working its ships so hard that they'll wear out years before they're supposed to. This summer, Harvey, along with a number of lawmakers, expressed such concerns when he testified in Washington before the House Armed Services Committee about the readiness of the fleet's ships.
Keeping ships in shape to make their 25-, or 30- or even 40-year planned operational life spans is fundamental to the Navy's three-decade fleet plan. And that plan is already aggressive: it will push many ships, including cruisers, destroyers and amphibious ships, as much as 10 or 15 years beyond their original design life.
Happy talk only lasts so long - then the facts of chemistry and engineering finally trump, as they always do, PPT.
"For the Navy to talk about cutting back its commitment is really an organizational change of major proportions," said one former officer familiar with the discussions. "The big picture is that there is a general retrenchment."It is called reality. It is called honest leadership. It is called doing the right thing. BZ Admiral Harvey; again.
The topic doesn't even have a particular name, sources said, and the discussion is only beginning. But it's of fundamental importance to how the entire Navy will operate.
"Controlling that demand signal is not so much saying it's invalid, it's saying here's what we can give you over the long haul," Harvey declared. "Let's make priorities. Let's make choices about what we do."
Wait ... I want to see that again.
"Let's make priorities. Let's make choices about what we do."Someone translate that into Latin and put it on a patch.